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Working parents: Your rights if there’s a coronavirus outbreak at school

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14/09/2020
Schools across England opened their gates this month as a return to ‘normality’ was viewed as imperative to a child’s development and mental health. But what if there’s a coronavirus outbreak?

Pupils in England have returned to ‘covid-secure’ schools, freeing up parents to return to the office.

But just weeks in to the ‘new normal’, thousands of children have been sent home after coronavirus outbreaks at schools.

With this new level of disruption, what are parents’ rights when it comes to time off and pay as children are kept at home to self-isolate?

Kate Palmer, associate director of HR advisory at Peninsula explains the situation…

The government has made clear that a parent will not be classed as ‘self-isolating’ even if their child has been asked to do so unless their child:

  • exhibits symptoms or tests positive for the coronavirus
  • they are experiencing symptoms or have tested positive
  • they have returned from a non-quarantine exempt country abroad
  • or they have been told by the NHS to self-isolate.

The normal rules on self-isolation will apply if a parent is self-isolating. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be payable to eligible employees, regardless of an individual’s parental status, except in cases where self-isolation is necessary as a result of travel to a non-quarantine exempt country.

Where a parent is not self-isolating, they are legally entitled to unpaid time off for dependants. The employment right to this time off is intended to be for unforeseen emergencies only, of which the coronavirus will likely fall under. The law stipulates that time off for dependants can be taken specifically where a dependant has either fallen ill, is injured, or is assaulted.

Other qualifying criteria include to make arrangements for the provision of care, or such arrangement has been disrupted, in the case of the death of a dependant, or where there has been an unexpected incident involving the dependant at school. Currently, there is no qualifying service period required to entitle an employee to take time off work of this nature so employees who have just started a new role can still take this time off.

If parents are to take time off for dependants they should be aware that, aside from the fact it is unpaid, they are required to inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length, which employers should not reasonably refuse.

This is unless, as set out by law, it is not necessary to take the time off or where the amount of time off proposed is unreasonable. The government advises that the length of time should not usually be more than two days. Ultimately though, employers should consider the coronavirus situation when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time.

Alternatively, employees should talk to their boss about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with. It may be that employees can work from home where possible, or a temporary period of other flexible working options are arranged.

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